A junior Airmen from the 103rd Airlift Wing, who had been released from military service due to dereliction of duty, was arrested after being found tampering with one of the unit’s C-130H aircraft. Following his detainment, local police found an arsenal of explosives, including pipe bombs, at the Airman’s residence. The 103rd has called upon Soldiers from the 928th Military Working Dog Detachment, and their K-9 service dogs, to help investigate the tampered aircraft and the tarmac for any explosives left by the alleged ne’er-do-well.
The previous paragraph was a training scenario Soldiers from the 928th conducted in cooperation with the 103rd at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, Conn. Aug. 29, 2023.
“Today, we coordinated training with the Airlift Wing to get our military working dogs on some aircraft,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Kevin O’Connell, a military working dog handler with the 928th. “Our military working dogs are expected to search for explosives in a wide array of different environments and both dog and handler need to be comfortable working in tight spaces and around loud noises on airstrips, pretty much any environment that bad guys want to hide explosives.”
Most of the unit’s training happens in and around its training facility in Newtown, Connecticut. While this provides an adequate space to maintain their certifications and skills necessary for their mission, the partnership with the 103rd gives these Soldiers the opportunity to step outside their comfort zone, train in an unfamiliar environment, and build rapport with their sister service. For many of the unit’s handlers, this was the first time they had the opportunity to train on an aircraft.
During this training event, each handler was required to go through the process of what they’d do in a real-word situation, including providing an initial brief to a unit commander and on-ground security forces prior to executing their search of the plane to find several specially scented training aids that simulate bombs hidden by the disgruntled airman.
“Our handlers are expected to be on-scene commanders whenever and wherever they’re going,” said O’Connell, a Beacon Falls, Conn. native. “We like to constantly test the capabilities and limitations of our handlers … [the training organizers] try to think in-depth of where bad guys would realistically try to hide explosives and we leave it up to our handlers, and their military working dogs, to test their capabilities and limitations in finding those explosive training aids.”
The 928th is the only military working dog unit in the U.S. military’s reserve component and, as such, are heavily relied upon to provide their services in emergencies and during special events around the country. While an aircraft isn’t a typical site they’d be called to in a real crisis, having this experience under their belt helps broaden their horizons and prepare them in the event they get the call for such a situation.
“We’re both used in state and federal functions,” said O’Connell. “So, we can be used from a random anti-terror mission at a local armory all the way to being requested by the U.S. Secret Service for presidential and vice presidential … sweeps and that can range from New York to Maine to Texas, wherever they need us, we can be there. Our jobs are to be flexible and to be on call for whoever needs us because you never know when something’s going to go down.”
The 928th employs two different types of military working dogs: explosive and counter drug. The explosive working dogs are trained to find a variety of different explosive materials. The counter drug working dogs, on the other hand, and specially trained to work with police and the Coast Guard to uncover a wide range of narcotics and other illegal drugs hidden by smugglers.